Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Drunk on Sports (2013)

By Tim Cowlishaw

Alcohol consumption by journalists is rarely discussed much by journalists in a relatively serious manner. Yes, it happens, just like it does in other parts of society. When deadlines get demanding, at least some reporters feel the need to relax with an adult beverage.

There often is joking about this subject along those lines, particularly among those in the sports journalism field. My guess is that sports carries a bit of a frat-boy aura around it most of the time, and it extends past the participants. There also is the issue of down time while traveling, which some combat in the nearest bar.

But the dark side often is around, usually in the shadows. Alcoholism, or even something close to it if such a thing exists, is the elephant in the room at all times. It's just not discussed much, even though every veteran reporter has seen friends, co-workers and competitors have problems with drinking.

"Drunk on Sports" must be one of the first books out there that specifically deals with the issue of drinking and sports journalism. Others journalists have touched on it, notably Pete Hamill in "A Drinking Life." Tim Cowlishaw's book, however, focuses on the sports business, with his own life as a case study of sorts.

Cowlishaw is the sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News, having held the job since 1988. He's best-known nationally for appearing on ESPN's "Around the Horn." This is a peak at what his life has been like, particularly from the drinking side of the street.

Now, Cowlishaw does something very different here. Most books on addictions - Eric Clapton and Dwight Gooden come to mind - don't have many laughs in them. There are stories of long nights, difficult days and trips to rehab facilities. It's instructive but difficult reading.

This is different.  Cowlishaw obviously is a good writer, and he's not afraid to make fun of everything - including himself and his habit. He tells stories about how meeting for drinks with sources such as former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson actually helped him professionally. This might be the most honest account of how day-to-day journalism works that I've read. There are also tales of good times with friends near and far.

But the danger signs that he was having too much fun eventually started coming. A few drinks each night led to even bigger binges and mornings where he didn't remember what happened. Relationships started to fall apart. And then, suddenly Cowlishaw wound up being picked up for DWI, and found himself bleeding after a fall on the curb prompting a trip to the hospital.

From there, Cowlishaw eventually decided he had a major problem with drinking and gave it up. He didn't go to rehab or AA meetings - just quit, more or less cold turkey. So far, so good, according to the book, although he and readers of such book know that a relapse is always at least lurking around the corner. He says he is enjoying the chance to watch sporting events with a clear-eyed perspective.

This is something of a short memoir rather than a full autobiography, but there are elements of his life story included. Cowlishaw makes this quite entertaining along the way, which makes the basic message - if you think you have a drinking problem, you probably do - a bit easier to take.

"Drunk on Sports," then, is something of a surprise. Cowlishaw made a difficult story readable and interesting. Anyone would find it very good, but those with some sort of stake in the story - personal or professional - will kick that rating up a notch.

Four stars

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